Stead & Simpson was one of the oldest, most well-known and respected names in the British footwear industry. The business can trace its history back to 1834, when it was founded as a Leeds based manufacturer of footwear. At its peak in the 19th century the company employed over 1000 staff in Leeds and manufactured 7000 pairs of shoes each week. During this period there were 23 tanneries in Leeds.
Factories and mechanization came to this large industry after 1850 as shoe makers gradually recognized the usefulness of consolidating the various processes at one location. Within these central shops, or factories, machines were perfected that imitated specific hand processes.
A ‘Cordwainer’ is someone who makes shoes and other articles from fine soft leather as distinct from a cobbler, who repaired them. This distinction gradually weakened during the twentieth century, when there was a predominance of shoe retailers who neither made nor repaired shoes. That also saw the end of another shoe related occupation a ‘Boot Laster’ or maker of lasts. Major volumes of imports started and continues today with only Clarks in Somerset as a major UK based volume manufacturer.
Stead & Simpson started as a footwear maker but switched focus onto shoe shops. In the 1960s it had more than 400 retail outlets and 4000 staff and is now based in Leicester. Stead & Simpson, whose brands include Shoe Express, Lilley & Skinner, and Peter Briggs, made losses last year and has been through a period of administration. The company has already sold off 25 factory outlet stores trading as Famous Footwear. ShoeZone of Leicester acquired the company in 2008 and in 2016 have 550 stores and a small web presence..
Stead & Simpson were not the only shoe retailer to face problems. In 2009 the Ziff family rescued 160 Barratts and Priceless shops, part of the Stylo group at the Bradford based company from administration. Unfortunately 220 stores closed and the Dolcis brand disappeared.